TJ Miller. Photos by Jacob Nicholie
Last weekend, the third installment Houston Whatever Fest took over the eccentric hub of the EaDo region between Warehouse Live and The Secret Group. With a lineup consisting of artists like Cold War Kids, American Football and Big Freedia, as well as comedians such as TJ Miller and Ali Siddiq, the organizers made a point of including a variety of entertainment, ultimately curating an enjoyable grassroots festival. With a diverse bill, a relaxed vibe and a modest ticket fee, attending the event was something I looked forward to. With multiple (I think?) reschedules and the worst weather of our lifetime that did not actually arrive, Houston Whatever Fest finally happened.
As the saying goes, “third time’s a charm.” I arrived on Saturday with the expectation — or perhaps the hope, rather — that the organizers were finally able to thrill the crowd needed to make their event an overwhelming success as a community event that could and should exist. Unfortunately, I am not sure if that was the case, given the size of the audience. Now, trying not to dwell on the past, I think there were multiple reasons for the lackluster attendance, but the booking is something that should be talked about. I mean, booking is what ultimately separates a house show from Coachella. Also, I want to note that I am not arguing that the producers are inexperienced, because that is obviously not the case. In fact, Warehouse Live is one of my favorite venues and their people involved in the planning are very good at what they do and the ones based out of Texas book shows at some of the most prestigious venues on the West Coast. Writing this for Free Press Houston, it is critical to note that the music industry is hard, and setting up a music festival is really fucking hard. Besides this, though arguably the main reason, the weather is also something to blame, seeing as meteorologists hyped Sunday as the Apocalypse 2.0. I think it is very fair to applaud the festival for their precautions: moving the three music stages to Warehouse Live, where the entire festival has been for the past three years. Perhaps it is just a personal opinion, but hosting the festival at Warehouse Live and the substantial parking lot behind gave the feel of a more designated festival rather than a street fair that was more apparent at the location this weekend. That, however, was more beneficial to vendors as room is limited where the first two festivals took place. On the other hand, I don’t think the vendors made enough to cover the event’s hefty vendor fee of several hundred dollars. But what is there to do about the weather? Cancel? No, we need to to all unite and tell the weather to leave Texas festivals alone! Festivals seem to be the biggest target of bad weather, and it really sucks (especially Levitation 2016, I still get sad thinking about it).
I think the bands themselves had a great time at the event, as I saw several artists walking around who seemed genuinely interested in meeting fans. Aside from local favorites, rapper Asher Roth was spotted around the festival throughout all of Saturday between his two sets. In my opinion, I think majority of the bands that played were happy to do it, and perhaps they felt the smaller crowds meant more intimate sets. Well, except American Football. Reunited emo royalty played the Warehouse Live ballroom on Sunday for an hour long, as the schedule suggested. During this hour, the group took 30 minutes for their soundcheck. Vocalist Mike Kinsella gave off the distinct feeling that he didn’t care about the performance. Perhaps that’s not how it was intended, but by cutting the set 30 minutes short and giggling throughout the several songs that were played, one is left to assume as much. Other than this, the only real slip up I saw at a performance happened during Cold War Kids’ set. They played well, but the lead microphone was not loud enough for the first few songs, though it was later taken care of. Overall, Whatever Fest’s dedication to mix local and touring acts was apparent in their artist lineup.
As for the comedy, I will be the first to admit that I’m not terribly familiar with it, so besides various local comedians and headliner TJ Miller, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. What I got was a chance to see some really talented people. The only downfall to this — which isn’t unusual at a festival that features comedy — was all of the heckling, the repeated outbursts by some obnoxious person, usually not seated too far from me. I saw a few people kicked out throughout the weekend, but Miller seemed to get the brunt of it. My friend and I discussed it, and I guess I agree with them: Miller thrived on it, responding to everyone he could hear, especially the belligerent “Home Depot guy” who happened to be sitting right next to me. If you were there, then you know who I mean. The people who are in charge of the comedy portion did their job just as steady as they have for the festival’s other two years, going above and beyond to find people who would make the audience forget about whatever they have going on in their life and just laugh.
Ultimately, I have respect for the production team for sticking with something they have cared about for years now and have sought to improve it year after year. While they have not gotten to where — I assume — they want to be, I know that they learn more and more with each festival. While I am not sure what the plans hold for HWF’s future — though I hope for a return in 2018 — I can say that I have had good experiences every year. What the weekend ultimately gave was an experience to witness things that you may not find at other festivals, and that’s really why people love attending weekend-long festivals: to forget about things that are bothersome and just kick back.
The Good and The Not So Good: Houston Whatever Fest This was reposted for my personal reading use